Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
Former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s conviction for having violated a federal bribery law spurred some small reforms to Virginia’s ethics laws, including a $100 cap on gifts to state legislators.
In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court, on somewhat narrow and technical grounds, overturned McDonnell’s conviction, ruling that his conduct didn’t violate the applicable federal bribery law.
However, even after the Supreme Court’s McDonnell decision, states like Virginia retained the power to enact state ethics laws. Virginia can decide whether politicians who do things like McDonnell did should be:
- excused for doing something that is just part of the old-school “Virginia way,” or
- subject to significant penalties for doing something that the community and a new legislative majority now believes is a conflict of interest or corrupt
We need further, more significant campaign finance and ethics reforms, but efforts to get them have failed so far. In the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions, when Democrats held only 34 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates (HOD), no such reforms were passed. And, even in the wake of the major Democratic HOD legislative gains in 2017, more significant reforms have been blocked by slim Republican majorities.
Democrats will need to take control of both legislative chambers this year to enable significant reforms to pass in 2020.
Campaign Finance Reform
In the recently concluded Democratic primaries for Commonwealth’s Attorney in Arlington and Fairfax counties, a PAC funded by George Soros contributed nearly $1 million dollars to the successful challengers. These contributions were legal under Virginia’s current campaign finance laws.
Our laws contain no campaign contribution limits.
Virginia’s campaign finance laws have been ranked 47th out of 50 in America, and received a grade of “F” from a State Integrity Investigation.
Three Democratic legislators (including Arlington Delegate Patrick Hope (D-47)) recently announced that they intend to introduce new legislation in the 2020 session substantially to reform these laws.
Their legislation will be modeled after an unsuccessful bill introduced in the 2019 session, and would “prohibit individuals and political action committees from making any single contribution, or any combination of contributions, that exceeds $10,000 to any one candidate” for statewide, General Assembly, or local offices, “of which no more than $5,000 may be contributed for the primary or other nominating event for the office the candidate is seeking.”
But wouldn’t such contribution limits violate the U. S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision? Maybe not. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court declined to review a Court of Appeals ruling upholding Montana’s state campaign contribution limits. The Court of Appeals rejected a claim that Montana’s campaign contribution limits violated Citizens United.
The proposed new Virginia legislation co-sponsored by Delegate Hope would be a significant and desirable reform. But it is unlikely to pass unless Democrats take control of both legislative chambers this November.
Other Ethics Reforms
Virginia’s current Ethics Advisory Council lacks critical enforcement powers.
Virginia needs a new ethics body with the:
- resources to conduct investigations
- power to assess fines for violations
- authority to make referrals to the Attorney General or other prosecutors
Virginia should create a new, independent Ethics Review Commission with teeth, including subpoena and enforcement powers. Other states, including Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania have these kinds of ethics commissions.
For example, the Massachusetts Ethics Commission can impose the following penalties:
- a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation of the conflict of interest law or the financial disclosure law
- a maximum civil penalty of $25,000 for bribery
By carefully studying the different ethics commission models established in these and other states, Virginia legislators can and should find a model that combines effective enforcement power with safeguards against partisan abuse.
Significant further reforms in campaign finance and ethical practices are long overdue at every level of Virginia government. Efforts to enact such reforms have been blocked for many years by Republicans in the Virginia legislature. If Democrats can take control of both legislative chambers in 2019, these needed reforms can and should be enacted.
Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC-a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.
In loving memory of Joseph Robert Kapacziewski, who passed away in 2023 at the age of 41.
In loving memory of James Stuart Edmonds, who passed away in 2023 at the age of 84.
A man was shot in front of a lounge on Columbia Pike early this morning, continuing a string of violent incidents.
Good Friday evening, Arlington. Today we published articles that were read a total of 17124 times… so far. 📈 Top stories The following are the most-read articles for today —…
YULA’s ultimate frisbee spring season is now open for registration. We offer programs for middle and high schoolers – open to all players, whether they are new or have previous experience.Middle SchoolIn the Middle School league, mixed-gender teams practice once during the week and have games on Sunday afternoons. Spring league is a fun, safe, and positive environment. The season begins mid-March and wraps up with a tournament in early June. There are several options for practice days, so we can often work around schedule conflicts with other sports & activities.High SchoolThe High School program is organized by school of attendance and teams are classified by gender. New players will learn the basics in a supportive, welcoming environment. Experienced players will continue to develop their skills, and enjoy competition with other high school programs. The season concludes with a state level championship tournament in late May.All players are guided by experienced coaches who emphasize sportsmanship and good spirit. Ultimate is a fun sport with great camaraderie!YULA does not want finances to limit anyone from participating. Our middle school program offers a “Pay What You Can” cost structure and our our high school program is offering a $50 discount to new players.Visit our website to register and learn more. Sign up with a friend, but don’t delay, the season starts in March!http://www.yula-ulti.org
The Arlington-Aachen High School exchange is returning this summer and currently accepting applicants.
The sister-city partnership started in 1993 by the Arlington Sister Cities Association, which seeks to promote Arlington’s international profile through a variety of exchanges in education, commerce, culture and the arts. The exchange, scheduled June 17th to July 4th, includes a two-week homestay in Aachen plus three days in Berlin. Knowledge of the German language is not required for the trip.
Former participants have this to say:
_”The Aachen exchange was an eye-opening experience where I was fully immersed in the life of a German student. I loved biking through the countryside to Belgium, having gelato and picnics in the town square, and hanging out with my German host student’s friends. My first time out of the country, the Aachen exchange taught me to keep an open mind, because you never know what could be a life changing experience.” – Kelly M._
Valentine gifts for someone special or for yourself are here at George Mason University from noon -4pm on February 14, 2023. Satisfy your sweet tooth with Kingsbury Chocolates, find a handmade bag from Karina Gaull, pick up treats from Village